My review is in, and it ain’t that great

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Among the long list of things the internet has encouraged is to turn too many of us into overly enthusiastic blowhards, as well as elevate not too few of us into high-minded, self-appointed critics.

Blowhards most of us can do without. Thanks to the web and social media, yelling and screaming and name-calling are almost de rigueur online and in the public square; it’s not useful and never was cute.

But the web-generated phenomenon of truly independent, unbiased reviews — honest user recommendations from regular Joes and Janes found online — has been a most helpful byproduct.

I almost never purchase a book, choose lodging or a restaurant, or go see a movie without first scouring reviews from sites like goodreads.com or tripadvisor.com or imdb.com. I read reviews on Amazon.com before any purchases I make there as well. I like learning what others who have been there, done that, think. (I typically disregard the most glowing or most critical reviews and instead focus on the most descriptive, given the circumstantial nature of written criticism.)

Those of us in the newspaper biz rely on advertising revenues for survival, but I’ve always said — and believe it to this day — that “word of mouth” is the most powerful form of advertising. Credibility is king, and if I trust you, and you say it’s good or bad, or worth it, I’m likely to believe you — and your opinion.

The generous digital domain of apps and websites out there, however, means we don’t have to be standing beside each other — or even know each other — to share the inside scoop on good and bad experiences or purchases.

Which begs the question: what about when we do have a truly bad experience? Should we share it for the masses? And if so, how honest — how harsh — should we be in a written review?

I just faced that question. On the rare occasions when I write a review, my site of choice is TripAdvisor (tripadvisor.com). I’ve written 70 or so over the years. The majority are five-star evaluations of restaurants my wife Lee Ann and I have visited or of tours we’ve taken while traveling. My account shows I’ve written reviews from 31 different cities; I try to be quick to share a “good word” of enthused praise when it’s merited and an honest appraisal when there’s a disappointment.

And disappointment was the word after a recent restaurant visit in Blowing Rock: I was agitated not by the food (while pricey, it was mostly very good), but by the inattentive service which spoiled an otherwise nice night.

Among the items on our list of grievances about our server: she didn’t tell us about the specials, didn’t bring us bread, didn’t refill our water glasses, didn’t pay attention to a specific food sensitivity request my wife told her about, and didn’t offer dessert options, then didn’t bring us our check after clearing our dinner plates. She mostly just wasn’t there, and when another server finally flagged her down for us and brought her over, she rolled her eyes when we brought a few of these things to her attention.

While other patrons’ servers were cheerful and attentively explanatory, ours was AWOL.

So naturally I hopped online when we got back to the house we rented to share about the experience. And naturally, Lee Ann cautioned me: don’t be too harsh, particularly since we already vented to the manager, who happened to overhear us telling the host about our experience. (He knocked $22 off our $75 bill for our discomfort, then gave her, as he told us after we paid the check, “more than a good talking to.”)

What struck me after I submitted my evaluation was the fact that most of the reviews of that particular restaurant addressed either very good or very bad service — not the food. Sure, I’d skimmed them before, as usual, but the primary attraction for us in going there was the menu and the food options. Scattered among the many five-star reviews were lots of one- and two-star write-ups, nearly all addressing inattentive service.

I should have read the reviews closer.

Would we go back? Maybe. If we did, though, up front I’d ask not for a great table, but for great service.

It’s not on the menu, but it ought to be.

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